Last-mile, landscaping and leaping robots

I spoke to Refraction AI co-founder/CTO Matthew Johnson-Roberson on the occasion of the Michigan startup’s $4.2 million seed raise. This week we posted a Q&A where he answers a wider range of topics about the delivery robotics company, and this bit jumped out at me:

It still boggles my mind that nobody has tried to copy what we’re doing. There were 10 or 12 sidewalk robot companies in early 2015, 2016 and 2017. Many of them, with a few exceptions, went out of business.

Refraction autonomous delivery robot

Image Credits: Refraction

The first part of the quote points to seemingly obvious truths that are still worth reiterating here. First: If you spot a need in the market you believe you can address, go for it. Second: There are likely even more opportunities for robotics and automation than we’ve considered. The second sentence seemingly negates the second point to some degree, but more than anything, I think it’s an indictment of how merciless this industry can be.

High risk/high reward, and all that, but even with a great idea, smart people and a healthy raise, bad timing can still land you flat on your face. For now, it seems, the timing is right. Delivery robotics are very much an industry that has been accelerated by the pandemic, in terms of interest, innovation and, of course, funding.

FedEx-Nuro

Image Credits: Nuro

As I noted last week, I spoke to Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla at last week’s TC Sessions: Mobility event. Here’s what Kumavat had to say about that acceleration:

Even before the pandemic hit, this whole e-commerce trend was already on the rise. No one wants their deliveries to be done after a week or two weeks. Everyone is expecting them to be done on the same day, as well as curbside pickup options. There was already a rise in the expectations of e-commerce and on-demand deliveries even before the pandemic hit. Post-March 2020, what we have seen is a huge increase in that trajectory.

More big news from Nuro (try saying that five times, fast), the delivery company just signed a deal with FedEx, marking a big step into package delivery.

Image Credits: Scythe Robotics

This week, I also spoke to another pair of robotics startups that have emerged from the pandemic with sizable rounds. Boulder-based Scythe emerged from stealth with a $13.8 million Series A, bringing its total funding to $18.6 million. The company specializes in landscaping robotics, starting with a mower. Given the potential market size, I’m honestly surprised there aren’t more companies doing this.

Interestingly, the company is offering a RaaS (robotics as a service) model, which is becoming increasingly popular in the space. Here it’s charging customers based on the number of acres mowed.

Image Credits: Dusty Robotics

Bay Area-based Dusty Robotics, meanwhile, raised a $16.5 million Series A, bringing its total raised to $23.7 million. Construction is a huge potential market with a lot of interest and players. Dusty’s offering is interesting and fairly unique, effectively printing plans on the floor of a construction site. The company likens it to “Ikea Instructions.” Here’s co-founder and CEO, Tessa Lau:

We just released our third-generation hardware platform, which was designed from the ground up by our team in Mountain View to be purpose-built for producing accurate and speedy layout on construction sites. We’ve been working on this product since fall of 2018 and have incorporated lessons learned from completing over 1 million square feet of production layout into this third-generation design.

And for good measure, here’s a fun one from Tencent Robotics.

IEEE Spectrum spotted the robot, which was actually announced a few weeks ago. According to the paper where Ollie appeared, the wheeled robot is more experimental than practical, but it’s capable of some pretty impressive feats none the less:

Experimental results demonstrate that the linear output regulation can maintain the standing of the robot, and that nonlinear controller can balance the robot under an initial starting angle far away from the equilibrium point, or under a changing robot height.

There isn’t a ton of info about Ollie available yet, but it sure is fun to watch.

 

#delivery, #dusty-robotics, #gatik, #nuro, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #scythe-robotics, #starship-technologies

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Scale AI CEO Alex Wang weighs in on software bugs and what will make AV tech good enough

Scale co-founder and CEO Alex Wang joined us at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2021 this week to discuss his company’s role in the autonomous driving industry and how it’s changed in the five years since its founding. Scale helps large and small AV players establish reliable “ground truth” through data annotation and management, and along the way, the standards for what that means have shifted as the industry matures.

Good data is the “good bones” of autonomous driving systems

Even if two algorithms in autonomous driving might be created more or less equal, their real-world performance could vary dramatically based on what they’re consuming in terms of input data. That’s where Scale’s value prop to the industry starts, and Wang explains why:

If you think about a traditional software system, the thing that will separate a good software system from a bad software system is the code, the quality of the code. For an AI system, which all of these self-driving vehicles or autonomous vehicles are, it’s the data that really separates an amazing algorithm from a bad algorithm. And so one thing we saw was that being one of the stewards and shepherds of high-quality data was going to be incredibly important for the industry, and that’s what’s played out. We work with many of the great companies in the space, from Aurora to Nuro to Toyota to General Motors, and our work with all of them is ensuring that they have really a solid data foundation, so they can build the rest of their stacks on top of it. (Time stamp: 06:24)

#adas, #alex-wang, #alexandr-wang, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #cybernetics, #ec-techcrunch-tc-mobility, #electric-vehicles, #mobility-2021, #nuro, #robotics, #scale-ai, #self-driving-car, #tc, #transportation

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Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson-Roberson on finding the middle path to robotic delivery

Refraction AI calls itself the Goldilocks of robotic delivery. The Ann Arbor-based company, which recently raised a $4.2 million seed round and expanded operations to Austin, was founded by two University of Michigan professors who think delivery via full-size autonomous vehicles (AV) is not nearly as close as many promise and sidewalk delivery comes with too many hassles and not enough payoff. Their “just right” solution? Find a middle path, or rather, a bike path.

The company’s REV-1 robot, which co-founder and CTO Matthew Johnson-Roberson debuted on the TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility stage in 2019, was built on a foundation of a bicycle. At about 4 feet tall and 32 inches wide, the three-wheeled vehicle can travel at up to 15 miles per hour, which means it can stop quickly to avoid obstacles while still being faster than a human.

The intermediate speed also means that the REV-1 doesn’t need to see as far ahead as a full-size AV, which allows it to function well on radars, sensors and cameras instead of requiring expensive lidar, according to the company.

Johnson-Roberson has spent nearly 20 years in academic robotics. Universities are home to many of the advances in field robotics, but the average person doesn’t see many such applications everyday when they look out their window. This desire to make something that is useful to the general public has been a huge motivator for the academic-turned-founder.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity. 

TechCrunch: You unveiled Refraction AI on the TechCrunch stage two years ago. How has it evolved since?

Matthew Johnson-Roberson: It’s been a really exciting ride. At that time, we had one vehicle — the one that we rolled out on stage — and now we have 25 vehicles in Ann Arbor and Austin, which we just announced. So things have changed quite a bit in the intervening years. We had already predicted a lot of changes around food delivery, specifically, and lots of those were accelerated by the pandemic.

#autonomous-delivery, #autonomous-vehicles, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-robotics, #logistics, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #startups, #transportation

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Construction robotics firm Dusty raises $16.5M

It certainly follows then that some leading construction robotics companies are able to strike while the iron is hot with some healthy raises. Today, Bay Area-based Dusty Robotics announced a $16.5 million Series A. Led by Canaan Partners and featuring NextGen Venture Partners, Baseline Ventures, Root Ventures and Cantos Ventures, the round brings the startup’s full funding up to $23.7 million.

“We have an enormous amount of demand from customers across the U.S., and around the world,” founder and CEO Tessa Lau told TechCrunch. “In addition to growing our team, we will be expanding our fleet of robots and building more robots to service this demand.”

Canaan partner Rich Boyle adds that the pandemic has helped accelerate some of the already existing demand.

“Both markets are incredibly active and evolving quickly, I believe mostly due to longer-term trends. Those include things like continued improvements in AI and labor shortages in key industries, as well as the decreasing price of robotic hardware. That said, COVID has driven changes in how people are thinking about the design, construction and ongoing utilization of real estate assets, and it’s driven substantial changes in behavior — how we work, how we live, how we shop, and some of those changes that were accelerated by COVID we think are here to stay.”

The Dusty team is still fairly lean at about 17 employees, largely located in Mountain View. The startup’s first product is the Field Printer, a robot that prints out plans on the floor of construction sites. The company likens the maps to “Ikea Instructions.” The autonomous bot has been used by Swinerton, DPR Construction, Build Group and Pankow Builders, among others.

“We just released our third-generation hardware platform, which was designed from the ground up by our team in Mountain View to be purpose-built for producing accurate and speedy layout on construction sites,” says Lau. “We’ve been working on this product since fall of 2018 and have incorporated lessons learned from completing over 1 million square feet of production layout into this third-generation design.”

 

#canaan-partners, #construction, #dusty-robotics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups

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Robotic landscaping startup Scythe emerges from stealth with $13.8M raise

Founded in 2018, Scythe Robotics is emerging from stealth today by announcing an $13.8 million Series A raise. The round was led by Inspired Capital and features True Ventures, Zigg Capital and Lemnos. It brings the Boulder, Colorado-based landscaping robotics company’s total funding up to $18.6 million, including a $4 million seed, also led by True Ventures.

The startup’s first product is an autonomous mower, offered to customers through a Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) model. The method is becoming increasingly popular in the enterprise and industrial space, essentially offering clients robotics through a rental model that includes regular updates and maintenance. Interestingly, the company’s charging customers based on acres mowed.

The mower features eight HDR cameras and a variety of sensors designed to help avoid people, animals and various obstacles it might encounter on the job. Naturally, all of those sensors also come with a wealth of data collection aimed at — among other things — increasing the robot’s efficiency. Landscaping is a relatively low-hanging fruit for robotics. There’s certainly a lot to be said for automating the process for those with large swaths of land. Toro, notably, recently acquired Left Hand Robotics, and iRobot has announced its own (since delayed) robotic mower.

“To date, commercial landscape contractors haven’t had a technology partner who enables them to keep up with demand and to operate emissions-free. We are that partner,” said co-founder and CEO Jack Morrison in a release. “Our autonomous mower gives them the ability to grow their business, while staying green. It’s designed from the ground up to be an order of magnitude more reliable, more productive, and safer than any existing machine by incorporating state of the art autonomy with a rugged, all-electric design.”

Funding will go toward increasing headcount in its Colorado, Texas and Florida offices, R&D on further products and getting the mower in front of new customers.

#inspired-capital, #landscaping, #mowing, #recent-funding, #robotics, #scythe-robotics, #startups

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SoftBank, Uber, Tencent set to reap rewards from Didi IPO

After years of speculation, Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-sharing behemoth, finally unveiled its IPO filing in the U.S., giving a glimpse into its money-losing history.

Didi didn’t disclose the size of its raise. Reuters reported the company could raise around $10 billion at a valuation of close to $100 billion.

Cheng Wei, Didi’s 38-year-old founder owns 7% of the company’s shares and controls 15.4% of its voting power before the IPO, according to the prospectus. Major shareholder SoftBank Vision Fund owns 21.5% of the company, followed by Uber with 12.8% and Tencent at 6.8%.

The nine-year-old company, which famously acquired Uber’s China operations in 2016, is more than a ride-hailing platform now. It has a growing line of businesses like bike-sharing, grocery, intra-city freight, financial services for drivers, electric vehicles and Level 4 robotaxis, which it defines as “the pinnacle of our design for future mobility” for its potential to lower costs and improve safety.

Didi set up an autonomous driving subsidiary that banked $500 million from SoftBank in May last year. The unit now operates a team of over 500 members and a fleet of over 100 autonomous vehicles.

For the twelve months ended March, Didi served 493 million annual active users and saw 41 million transactions on a daily basis.

Didi had been operating in the red from 2018 to 2020, when it finished the year with a $1.6 billion net loss, but managed to turn the tide in the first quarter of 2021 by racking up a net profit of $837 million, which it recognized was primarily due to the investment income from the deconsolidation of Chengxin, its cash-burning grocery group buying initiative, and an equity investment disposal.

Revenue from the quarter also more than doubled year-over-year to $6.6 billion. China accounts for over 90% of Didi’s revenues as of late. The company has tried to expand its presence in a dozen overseas countries like Brazil, where it bought local ride-hailing business 99 Taxis.

Of its mobility revenues in China, more than 97% came from ride-hailing between 2018 and 2020. Taxi hailing, chauffeur and carpooling, a lucrative business that was revamped following two deadly accidents, made up a trifling share.

Didi plans to spend 30% of its IPO proceeds on shared mobility, electric vehicles, autonomous driving and other technologies. 30% will go towards its international expansion and another 20% will be used for new product development.

#asia, #automation, #carsharing, #china, #didi, #didi-chuxing, #funding, #robotaxi, #robotics, #softbank, #softbank-group, #transport, #transportation, #uber

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When Walmart comes knocking

As I’m typing this, I’ve just finished my second panel for our big TC Sessions: Mobility event. The write-ups will be ready in time for next week’s roundup, but a couple of things worth thinking about in the meantime.

The first is partnerships with big companies like Walmart. I get the sense that Walmart really loves to play the field when it comes to partnering with small tech startups. And honestly, why not, right?

There’s a lot of upside and relatively little downside. At the end of the day, a company like Walmart is looking for a competitive advantage against Amazon, the galactic emperor of competitive advantages. Amazon, of course, has invested a ton in robotics, including acquisitions and first-party development.

bossa nova-robots veanne cao

Image Credits: Veanne Cao/TechCrunch

For startups, there’s tremendous up and downside here. It’s hard not to see a company like Bossa Nova as a kind of cautionary tale on that front. The promising inventory scanning startup took a massive hit when Walmart backed out of a deal the company had invested large resources into. It left Bossa Nova shaken, to say the least.

There’s no easy math on this one. When a company like Walmart knocks on your door with a big contract, you want to jump in with both feet. But how do you avoid putting all of your eggs in that one basket. When it comes to emerging tech, companies like Walmart like to play the field.

Another subject I’ve been thinking a lot about of late is whether universities are doing enough to foster innovation in their own backyard. There are plenty of good and bad examples of this, but as someone who writes about robots, I keep coming back to Carnegie Mellon. Other big robotics schools like MIT and Stanford haven’t had to concern themselves with talent drain, in large part due to location.

Image Credits: Carnegie Mellon University

So, how does a school like CMU both help budding entrepreneurs transition from laboratory to startup and keep that talent in its own backyard? The good news is I’ll be able to take that question directly to the source. I’ll be interviewing CMU President Farnam Jahanian at TC’s upcoming virtual Pittsburgh event on June 29. Here’s a quote from Jahanian to whet your appetite:

Carnegie Mellon’s decades-long leadership in research and education in AI and robotics has catalyzed an innovation ecosystem in the Pittsburgh region where entrepreneurship, creativity and placemaking intersect. These emerging technologies are changing the way we farm, enabling millions to learn a new language, leading the race to develop self-driving vehicles, and even going to the moon. We are committed to empowering citizens across Pittsburgh to take part in the economic benefits of these innovations as they continue to transform our world.

Gideon Brothers robots

Image Credits: Gideon Brothers

As we head into summer, the investments in the category aren’t coming quite as fast and furiously as they were earlier in the year. But I have it on good authority that we’ll be seeing some more robotics funding announcements in the not too distant future. Of course, for all of the reasons I’ve alluded to before, the warehouse space continues to be hot. And this week a Croatian firm named Gideon Brothers announced a $31 million raise. From a recent piece by Mike, here’s CEO Matija Kopić:

The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are ready to meet the unprecedented market demand. The best way to do it is by marrying our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers out there. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they’re seizing the incredible opportunity right now to effect robotic-powered change to some of the world’s most innovative organizations.

Kopić and team should clearly all consider changing their last name to Gideon and doing a whole Ramones thing. Of course, they’re the ones who just raised $31 million, so maybe they’re doing something right.

#bossa-nova-robotics, #cmu, #gideon-brothers, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #walmart

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Here’s what’s on tap today at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

It’s game day for mobility tech mavens around the world. Well, at least for the ones who made the savvy decision to attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. Are you ready for a day packed with potential, overflowing with opportunity and focused on the future of transportation? Yeah, you are, and so are we!

No FOMO zone: Did you wait until the last minute? We don’t judge — simply purchase a pass at the virtual door.

Let’s take a look at just some of the speakers, presentations and breakout sessions on tap today. We’re talking about leading visionaries, founders and makers of mobility tech. They just might have info you need to know, amirite? The times listed below are EDT, but the event agenda will automatically reflect your time zone,

Throughout the course of the day: Be sure to make time to meet, greet and network with the 28 early-stage startups exhibiting in our virtual expo area (seriously, they’re an impressive bunch). The platform lets exhibitors present live demos, host Q&As about their products or hold private 1:1 meetings. Go mining for opportunities!

2:05 pm – 2:15 pm

EV Founders in Focus: We sit down with Ben Schippers, co-founder and CEO of TezLab, an app that operates like a Fitbit for Tesla vehicles (and soon other EVs) and allows drivers to go deep into their driving data. The app also breaks down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy coming from charging locations.

2:40 pm – 3:10 pm

Equity, Accessibility and Cities: Can mobility be accessible, equitable and remain profitable? We have brought together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler; Remix by Via co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to discuss how (and if) shared mobility can provide equity in cities, while still remaining a viable and even profitable business. The trio will also dig into the challenges facing cities and how policy may affect startups.

3:10 pm – 3:40 pm

The Rise of Robotaxis in China: Silicon Valley has long been viewed as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. But another country is also leading the charge. Executives from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (WeRide, AutoX and Momenta) — that also have operations in Europe or the U.S. — will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

That’s just a tiny taste of what today has in store for you. Choosing which of the 20 presentations and breakout sessions to attend could be tough. The good news is that you can catch anything you missed — or want to review again — with video-on-demand.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 kicks off today — go drive this opportunity-packed day like you stole it.

#articles, #automation, #ben-schippers, #china, #europe, #fitbit, #frank-reig, #judge, #mining, #momenta, #renewable-energy, #robotaxi, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tezlab, #tiffany-chu, #united-states

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ISEE brings autonomy to shipping yards with self-driving container trucks

Robotaxis may still be a few years out, but there are other industries that can be transformed by autonomous vehicles as they are today. MIT spin-off ISEE has identified one in the common shipping yard, where containers are sorted and stored — today by a dwindling supply of human drivers, but tomorrow perhaps by the company’s purpose-built robotic yard truck. With new funding and partnerships with major shippers, the company may be about to go big.

Shipping yards are the buffer zone of the logistics industry. When a container is unloaded from a ship full of them, it can’t exactly just sit there on the wharf where the crane dropped it. Maybe it’s time sensitive and has to trucked out right away; maybe it needs to go through customs and inspections and must stay in the facility for a week; maybe it’s refrigerated and needs power and air hookups.

Each of these situations will be handled by a professional driver, hooking the container up to a short-haul truck and driving it the hundred or thousand meters to its proper place, an empty slot with a power hookup, long term storage, ready access for inspection, etc. But like many jobs in logistics, this one is increasingly facing a labor shortage as fewer people sign up for it every year. The work, after all, is fairly repetitive, not particularly easy, and of course heavy equipment can be dangerous.

ISEE’s co-founders Yibiao Zhao and Debbie Yu said they identified the logistics industry as one that needs more automation, and these container yards especially. “Working with customers, it’s surprising how dated their yard operation is — it’s basically just people yelling,” said Zhao.  “There’s a big opportunity to bring this to the next level.”

Two ISEE trucks without containers on the back.

Image Credits: ISEE

The ISEE trucks are not fully custom vehicles but yard trucks of a familiar type, retrofitted with lidar, cameras, and other sensors to give them 360-degree awareness. Their job is to transport containers (unmodified, it is important to note) to and from locations in the yards, backing the 50-foot trailer into a parking spot with as little as a foot of space on either side.

“A customer adopts our solution just as if they’re hiring another driver,” Zhao said. No safe zone is required, no extra considerations need to be made at the yard. The ISEE trucks navigate the yard intelligently, driving around obstacles, slowing for passing workers, and making room for other trucks, whether autonomous or human. Unlike many industrial machines and vehicles, these bring the current state of autonomous driving to bear in order to stay safe and drive as safely as possible among mixed and unpredictable traffic.

The advantage of an automated system over a human driver is especially pronounced in this environment. One rather unusual limitation of yard truck drivers is that, because the driver’s seat is on the left side of the cabin, they can only park the trucks on the left as well since that’s the only side they can see well enough. ISEE trucks have no such limitation, of course, and can park easily in either direction, something that has apparently blown the human drivers’ minds.

Overhead view of autonomous and ordinary trucks moving around a shipping yard.

Image Credits: ISEE

Efficiency is also improved through the infallible machine mind. “There are hundreds, even thousands of containers in the yard. Humans spend a lot of time just going around the yard searching for assets, because they can’t remember what is where,” explained Zhao. But of course a computer never forgets, and so no gas is wasted circling the yard looking for either a container or a spot to put one.

Once it parks, another ISEE tech can make the necessary connections for electricity or air as well, a step that can be hazardous for human drivers in bad conditions.

The robotic platform also offers consistency. Human drivers aren’t so good when they’re trainees, taking a few years to get seasoned, noted Yu. “We’ve learned a lot about efficiency,” she said. “That’s basically what customers care about the most; the supply chain depends on throughput.”

To that end she said that moderating speed has been an interesting challenge — it’s easy for the vehicle to go faster, but it needs the awareness to be able to slow down when necessary, not just when there’s an obstacle, but when there are things like blind corners that must be navigated with care.

It is in fact a perfect training ground for developing autonomy, and that’s kind of the idea.

“Today’s robots work with very predefined rules in very constrained environments, but in the future autonomous cars will drive in open environments. We see this tech gap, how to enable robots or autonomous vehicles do deal with uncertainty,” said Zhao.

ISEE co-founders Yibiao Zhao (top), Debbie Yu (left), and Chris Baker.

ISEE Founders

“We needed a relatively unconstrained environment with complex human behaviors, and we found it’s actually a perfect marriage, the flexible autonomy we’re offering and the yard,” he continued. “It’s a private lot, there’s no regulation, all the vehicles stay in it, there are no kids or random people, no long tail like a public highway or busy street. But it’s not simple, it’s complex like most industrial environments — it’s congested, busy, there are pedestrians and trucks coming in and out.”

Although it’s an MIT spinout with a strong basis in papers and computer vision research, it’s not a theoretical business. ISEE is already working with two major shippers, Lazer Spot and Maersk, which account for hundreds of yards and some 10,000 trucks, many or most of which could potentially be automated by ISEE.

So far the company has progressed past the pilot stage and is working with Maersk to bring several vehicles into active service at a yard. The Maersk Growth Fund has also invested an undisclosed amount in ISEE, and one detects the possibility of an acquisition looming in the near future. But the plan for now is to simply expand and refine the technology and services and widen the lead between ISEE and any would-be competitors.

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autonomous-trucks, #autonomous-vehicles, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #isee, #logistics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-trucks, #shipping, #startups, #tc, #transportation

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Croatia’s Gideon Brothers raises $31M for its 
3D vision-enabled autonomous warehouse robots

Proving that Central and Eastern Europe remains a powerhouse of hardware engineering matched with software, Gideon Brothers (GB), a Zagreb, Croatia-based robotics and AI startup, has raised a $31 million Series A round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), the venture and growth arm of Koch Industries Inc., with participation from DB Schenker, Prologis Ventures, and Rite-Hite.

The round also includes participation from several of Gideon Brothers’ existing backers: Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Pentland Ventures, Peaksjah, HCVC (Hardware Club), Ivan Topčić, Nenad Bakić, and Luca Ascani.

The investment will be used to accelerate the development and commercialization of GB’s AI and 3D vision-based ‘autonomous mobile robots’ or ‘AMRs’. These perform simple tasks such as transporting, picking up, and dropping off products in order to free up humans to perform more valuable tasks.

The company will also expand its operations in the EU and US by opening offices in Munich, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively.

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers make robots and the accompanying software platform that specializes in horizontal and vertical handling processes for logistics, warehousing, manufacturing, and retail businesses. For obvious reasons, the need to roboticize supply chains has exploded during the pandemic.

Matija Kopić, CEO of Gideon Brothers, said: “The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are ready to meet the unprecedented market demand. The best way to do it is by marrying our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers out there. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they’re seizing the incredible opportunity right now to effect robotic-powered change to some of the world’s most innovative organizations.”

He added: “Partnering with these forward-thinking industry leaders will help us expand our global footprint, but we will always stay true to our Croatian roots. That is our superpower. The Croatian start-up scene is growing exponentially and we want to unlock further opportunities for our country to become a robotics & AI powerhouse.”

Annant Patel, Director at Koch Disruptive Technologies said: “With more than 300 Koch operations and production units globally, KDT recognizes the unique capabilities of and potential for Gideon Brothers’ technology to substantially transform how businesses can approach warehouse and manufacturing processes through cutting edge AI and 3D AMR technology.”

Xavier Garijo, Member of the Board of Management for Contract Logistics, DB Schenker added: “Our partnership with Gideon Brothers secures our access to best in class robotics and intelligent material handling solutions to serve our customers in the most efficient way.”

GB’s competitors include Seegrid, Teradyne (MiR), Vecna Robotics, Fetch Robotics, AutoGuide Mobile Robots, Geek+ and Otto Motors.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #boston, #central-europe, #ceo, #co-founder, #croatia, #db-schenker, #director, #eastern-europe, #europe, #european-union, #fetch-robotics, #geek, #germany, #gideon-brothers, #hardware-club, #koch-disruptive-technologies, #manufacturing, #massachusetts, #munich, #otto-motors, #robot, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #software-platform, #taavet-hinrikus, #tc, #teradyne, #transferwise, #united-states, #zagreb

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Tezlab CEO Ben Schippers to discuss the Tesla effect and the next wave of EV startups at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.

Tezlab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.

Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of Tezlab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla  because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up Tezlab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.

The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel Li, Huan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Other guests include, GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.

#alexandr-wang, #amazon, #api, #articles, #aurora, #automation, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ben-schippers, #ceo, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #facebook, #fitbit, #founder, #happyfuncorp, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #major, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #rimac-automobili, #rivian, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #tesla, #tezlab, #urban-innovation-fund, #volvo, #weride, #zoox

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Delivery, drones and DHL

Locus (not to be confused with this Locus) is one of those names that’s been popping up a lot in the news — and this roundup — over the past year. Last time we spoke to the Massachusetts company, it was around a sizable raise — $150 million to be nearly precise. That effectively valued the company as a unicorn.

Core to the company’s successes are its partnerships (as is the case with any robotics fulfillment company). DHL has been a big (or the biggest) name in the mix since 2017. Amid pandemic lockdowns, the logistic giant signed up for 1,000 robots last year and, as of yesterday, is doubling that number.

Image Credits: Locus Robotics

DHL is really committing to robotics here. At last count, it said it had deployed around 200,000 across the U.S. alone, which puts its right around the same number as Amazon (which admittedly, hasn’t updated that figure lately). Of course, the big difference there is that Amazon is primarily pulling from in-house systems — perhaps Locus is a prime acquisition target?

The robotics company’s CEO shot down that suggestion when I spoke to him earlier this year, stating, “We have no interest in being acquired. We think we can build the most and greatest value by operating independently. There are investors that want to invest in helping everyone that’s not named ‘Amazon’ compete.”

When it comes to companies with deep pockets, though, I never say never.

Also out this morning, is a good size round from Realtime Robotics. The Boston-based company is one of a number of startups looking to streamline the process of installing and deploying industrial robotics. The $31.4 million Series A includes participation from (deep breath)  HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.

Image Credits: E-Nano

There’s no such thing as a small raise, only a small…I’m not sure. Honestly, I didn’t really thing this one all the way through before I started typing. Anyway, here’s an early-stage, pre-seed from a London based startup called E-Nano. The company has developed a modular robotics system for monitoring sports turf.

Per a press release on the £100,000 ($141,000) raise, “These robots will eventually be able to assess agricultural land and contribute to landowners growing more sustainably. The team aims to implement 5G connectivity into their robots and platform, using this raise to deliver more immediate, real-time data with high throughput.”

 

Some good news for DJI comes courtesy of The Hill, which reports that the Pentagon has effectively cleared the drone giant in an audit. DJI was one of the names caught up in all of the flagging of Chinese companies that’s occurred over the past couple of years (read: during the Trump administration), which has severely kneecapped brands like Huawei and ZTE. DJI was never banned for sale outright in the States, but this is still a pretty massive relief for its ability to operate in such a large market.

The filing notes that it found “no malicious code or intent” from the company, going so far as “recommend[ing] use by government entities and forces working with US services.” Government use is a nice bonus there.

The company took a victory lap in a comment provided to TechCrunch, noting, “This U.S. government report is the strongest confirmation to date of what we, and independent security validations, have been saying for years – DJI drones are safe and secure for government and enterprise operations.”

Starship delivery robots

Starship delivery robots at UCLA campus on January 15th, 2021. Image Credits: Starship/Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA

Starship Technologies, meanwhile, snagged a high-profile name to lead the delivery robotics firm. Former Alphabet Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth will be taking the same title at his new company.

Incidentally, Starship is one of a trio of companies I’ll be speaking with during my delivery robotics panel (also Nuro and Gatik) at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility. We also just announced my second panel, which will be exploring a pretty vibrant category in automotive.

Image Credits: Ford/Agility Robotics

Max Bajracharya of TRI (Toyota), Mario Santillo of Ford and Ernestine Fu of Hyundai Motor Group will be discussing their respective employers’ approach to robotics beyond manufacturing and autonomy. They’re all doing really interesting stuff, and Hyundai, of course, is getting ready to close its acquisition of Boston Dynamics.

Should be fun. Register here.

#dhl, #dji, #ford, #hyundai, #locus, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #starship-technologies, #tc-sessions-mobility, #toyota

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Realtime Robotics raises a $31M Series A

Boston-based Realtime Robotics this morning announced a $31.4 million round The funding is part of the $11.7 million Series A the company announced all the way back in late 2019. Investors include HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.

Realtime is one of a number of startups building control on top of industrial robotics. Specifically, the startup looks to help companies deploy systems with limited programming and offering adaptable controls that work for multiple systems at once.

This round, which nearly doubles the company’s existing funding, will be used to accelerate it product development and extend its offering to more markets, globally. It comes as interest in robotics have ramped up amid the global pandemic.

“This investment by some of the world’s leading manufacturers and automation providers stands as a testament to our ability to dramatically improve the value proposition for robotic implementations,” CEO Peter Howard says in a release. “Having already realized early deployment success, a broad spectrum of customers and partners are working closely with us to refine features and user experiences, readying our technology for rollouts in their engineering, factory and warehouse operations.”

The company’s offerings serve a wide range of different industrial robotics tasks, including pick and place machines, packaging and palletizing boxes.

#funding, #realtime, #realtime-robotics, #robotics

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DHL will deploy 2,000 Locus Robotics units by 2022

DHL today announced that it will be expanding an ongoing partnership with Locus Robotics. Last year, the logistics giant announced plans to deploy 1,000 of the Massachusetts-based startup’s robots. The number is effectively doubling to 2,000 by 2022 — a deal that would make DHL Locus’ largest customer by a wide margin.

The two have been piloting robotics together since 2021, but interest in automation has picked up significantly during the pandemic. The reasons are myriad, but among them are the fact that robots can help keep things running amid a shutdown and are less likely to serve as a potential vector during a global pandemic.

DHL’s Global Supply Chain COO/CIO Markus Voss breaks down the figures accordingly:

So far, more than 500 assisted picking robots are already in industrial use in our warehouses in the USA, Europe and the UK. By the end of 2021, another 500 robots are to be added in a total of more than 20 locations. The collaborative picking technology has clearly proven its effectiveness and reliability in modern warehousing. More locations have already been identified with concrete implementation roadmaps for the remaining robots, which we will deploy in 2022. However, the overall potential for assisted picking robots in our DHL warehouses is much bigger, so we are confident that we will meet the targets we have set ourselves together with Locus Robotics.

Locus is one of several DHL robotics partners. In late 2018, the company announced a planned $300 million investment in the category, and as of last year, it said it had deployed more than 200,000 robots in warehouses across the U.S. It’s a figure that rivals — or event bests — that of Amazon’s robotics efforts.

In addition to these deals, Locus has seemingly had little issue shoring up cash support. In February, it announced a $150 million Series E that valued the company at $1 billion.

#dhl, #locus, #locus-robotics, #robotics

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Former head of Alphabet’s Loon joins Starship Technologies as new CEO

Autonomous robotics company Starship Technologies has a new CEO. The company on Tuesday said Alastair Westgarth, the former CEO of Alphabet’s Loon, would be leading the company as it looks to expand its robotics delivery service.

Westgarth previously headed Loon, Alphabet’s experiment to deliver broadband via high-altitude balloons, from 2017. The project shut down for good at the beginning of this year. The company said in a farewell blog post that “the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped.” Prior to working at Loon, Westgarth headed the wireless antennae company Quintel Solutions, was a vice president at telecommunications company Nortel and director of engineering at Bell Mobility.

He will be joining Starship Technologies at a time of rapid expansion. At the beginning of 2020, Starship only had a couple hundred autonomous bots operating in a few neighborhoods and college campuses. Last month the company said the number of deliveries since the start of the pandemic quadrupled, hitting a milestone 1.5 million commercial deliveries globally.

“Autonomous delivery is changing logistics as we know it, impacting billions of people around the world,” Westgarth said in a statement Tuesday. “The team at Starship has been developing and perfecting the technology and its operations for years, since creating the robot delivery category in 2014 […] I’m excited about this opportunity and looking forward to helping the company scale both on campuses and in neighborhoods, giving millions more people access to this market-leading, convenient, safe and environmentally friendly delivery service.”

Starship’s previous CEO Lex Bayer quietly departed in December 2020, after nearly three years at the helm. Its co-founder Ahti Heinla, who acted as interim CEO, will now become Starship’s CTO.

#delivery-robots, #loon, #project-loon, #robot-delivery, #robotics, #starship-technologies, #transportation

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ChargerHelp co-founder, CEO Kameale C. Terry is heading to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Thousands of electric vehicle charging stations will be built around the country over the next decade. ChargerHelp!, founded in January 2020 by Kameale C. Terry and Evette Ellis, wants to make sure they stay up and running.

The idea for the on-demand repair app for EV charging stations came to Terry when she was working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles including director of programs and head of customer experience. She noticed long wait times to fix non-electrical issues at charging stations due to the industry practice to use electrical contractors.

“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year.

After Terry quit her job to start ChargerHelp!, she joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a first-of-its-kind EV Network Technician Training Curriculum. Shortly after, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator and have landed contracts with major EV charging network providers like EV Connect and SparkCharge.

The company uses a workforce-development approach to hiring, meaning that they only hire in cohorts. Workers receive full training, earn two safety licenses, are guaranteed a wage of $30 an hour and receive shares in the startup, Terry said.

We’re excited to announce that Kameale Terry will be joining us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event that is scheduled June 9. We’ll be covering a lot of ground with Terry, from how she developed her EV repair curriculum to what she sees in the company’s future.

Each year TechCrunch brings together founders, investors, CEOs and engineers who are working on all things transportation and mobility. If it moves people and packages from Point A to Point B, we cover it. This year’s agenda is filled with leaders in the mobility space who are shaping the future of transportation, from EV charging to autonomous vehicles to urban air taxis.

Among the growing list of speakers are Rimac Automobili founder Mate RimacRevel Transit CEO Frank Reig, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler and Remix/Via co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu, who will come together to discuss how (and if) urban mobility can increase equity while still remaining a viable business.

Other guests include Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma, Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, GM‘s VP of Global Innovation Pam FletcherScale AI CEO Alexandr WangJoby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation FundQuin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct CapitalZoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel LiHuan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at the door. Grab your passes right now and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders.

#alexandr-wang, #aurora, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ceo, #chargerhelp, #charging-station, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicle-charging-station, #electric-vehicles, #ev-connect, #events, #frank-reig, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #revel-transit, #rimac-automobili, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #sparkcharge, #startups, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #transport, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #weride, #zoox

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See what’s new from Wejo, CMC, iMerit, Plus, oVice, & Michigan at TechCrunch’s mobility event

We’re in the final run-up to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on October 9, and the great stuff just keeps on coming. We’ve stacked the one-day agenda with plenty of programming to keep you engaged, informed and on track to build a stronger business. You’ll always find amazing speakers — some of the most innovative minds out there — on the main stage and in breakout sessions.

Dramatic pause for a pro tip: Don’t have a pass yet? Buy one here now for $125, before prices go up at the door.

“I enjoyed the big marquee speakers from companies like Uber, but it was the individual presentations where you really started to get into the meat of the conversation and see how these mobile partnerships come to life.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

We have another exciting bit of news. We’re hosting pitch session for early-stage startup founders who exhibit in the expo at TC Sessions: Mobility. Each startup gets five minutes to pitch to attendees in a breakout session. Remember, this conference has a global reach — talk about visibility! Want to pitch? Buy an Early Stage Startup Exhibitor Package as we only have 2 packages left.

Alrighty then…let’s look at some of the breakout & main stage sessions waiting for you at TC Sessions: Mobility 20201.

Innovating Future Mobility for Global Scale

Wednesday, October 9, 10:00 am -10:50 am PDT

Learn how the CMC’s model of bringing their Clients’ new technologies to market is new and innovative, going beyond a typical demonstration or pilot program, to the point of product launch and sustaining market viability. Hear from an expert panel about how the CMC’s programming is unique, innovative, and game-changing.

  • Neal Best, Director of Client Services, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Bill Brandt, Business Development Advisor, Zeus Electric Chassis
  • Mark Rawson, Chief Operating Officer, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Scott Ungerer, Founder and Managing Director, EnerTech Capital

Public-Private Partnerships: Advancing the Future of Mobility and Electrification

Wednesday, October 9, 10:45 am -11:05 am PDT

The future of mobility starts with the next generation of transportation solutions. Attendees will hear from some of the most innovative names on opportunities that await when public and private entities team up to revolutionize the way we think about technology. Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, will be joined by Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer of May Mobility.

  • Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer, May Mobility
  • Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, State of Michigan

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally

Wednesday, October 9, 12:40pm – 1:00pm PDT

Plus is applying autonomous driving technology to launch supervised autonomous trucks today in order to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and driver comfort, while addressing critical challenges in long-haul trucking — driver shortage and high turnover, rising fuel costs, and reaching sustainability goals. Mass production of our supervised autonomous driving solution, PlusDrive, starts this summer. In the next few years, tens of thousands of heavy trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road. Plus’s COO and Co-Founder Shawn Kerrigan will introduce PlusDrive and our progress of deploying this driver-in solution globally. He will also share our learnings from working together with world-leading OEMs and fleet partners to develop and deploy autonomous trucks at scale.

  • Shawn Kerrigan, COO and Co-Founder, Plus

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Wednesday, October 9, 11:00 am – 11:50am

Data will play a vital role in solving the critical edge cases required to gain city approval and deploy autonomous transportation at scale. Pilot projects are underway across the U.S. and cities such as Las Vegas are leading the way for progressive policies, testing and adoption. But, how do these projects involving a limited number of vehicles gain city approval, expand to larger geographic areas, include more use cases and service more people? Join our expert panel discussion as we examine the progress, challenges and road ahead in harnessing data to enable multiple modes of autonomous transportation in major cities across the U.S.

  • Chris Barker, Founder & CEO, CBC
  • Radha Basu, Founder & CEO, iMerit
  • Michael Sherwood, CIO, City of Las Vegas

Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

Wejo provides accurate and unbiased unique journey data, curated from millions of connected cars, to help local, state, province and federal government agencies visualize traffic and congestion conditions. Unlock a deeper understanding of mobility trends, to make better decisions, support policy development and solve problems more effectively for your towns and cities.

  • Brett Scott, VP of Partnerships

Will Remote Work Push Japan’s Rural Mobility Forward?

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

With remote work becoming the new normal and the mass movement from the city to the Japanese countryside, the trend of private car ownership is growing day by day. During this session, we’ll be hearing from Sae Hyung Jung, serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of oVice. oVice is an agile communication tool that facilitates hybrid remote and virtual meetups. Most notably, a hope that can trigger a sudden expansion in the Japanese mobility and vehicle infrastructure.

  • Sae Hyung Jung, Founder & CEO, oVice

#automation, #california, #car-ownership, #ceo, #chief, #chief-operating-officer, #driver, #flashparking, #may-mobility, #michigan, #mobility, #nina-grooms-lee, #officer, #plus, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #tc, #technology, #transport, #uber, #vp

0

Between a rock and a farm raise

Something I think that gets lost in the conversation around robotics is just how many different tasks can — and at some point will — be automated. Here I’m talking specifically about agtech. We’ve seen a ton of agricultural robotics come across our desk in recent years, and one of the more remarkable things about it all is just how broad the applications are.

There are all of the usual automated tasks you’d expect: produce picking, payload carting, weed pulling. All necessary farming tasks that seem to be well served by the industry. But what of rocks? Honestly, it’s something that hadn’t really occurred to me, having not spent any time on farms, aside from the occasional elementary school field trip.

TerraClear first entered our radar in 2018, mostly due to the founder’s former company (Smartsheet). Rocks are, quite literally, a big problem for farmers and farming equipment, so the company built a tractor/robot designed to pick them up. The system, which ships next year, will be able to grab up to 400 rocks an hour — individual rocks weighing up to 300 pounds.

The company just announced a $25 million Series A, which brings its total funding up to $36 million, says founder and CEO Brent Frei.

“There are more than 400 million arable acres worldwide that have been waiting for a cost-effective and productive solution to this problem,” said Frei. “Repetitive tasks like this are optimal targets for automation, and the technologies we are bringing to the field dramatically reduce the labor and time needed to prep fields for planting.”

Image Credits: Bowery Farming

Since we’re talking about farms and robots, Bowery Farming deserves a mention for a massive $300 million round. That puts the NYC-based company’s value at a beefy $2.3 billion. Robots, sensors and AI are a big part of Bowery’s vertical farming approach. The company’s already sending its produce to 850 grocery stores, along with a deal with Amazon Fresh.

It’s probably safe to say that indoor farming has a future for all sorts of reasons having to do with land use, climate and beyond.

Image Credits: MIT

Of course today’s research is tomorrow’s unicorns (this is not actually a saying…yet), and there are a couple of projects worth noting this week. Leading off the bunch is MIT, which is giving robotic inspection the finger. The oddly (but not inaccurately) named Digger Finger is capable of sensing and identifying objects underground. It’s a useful skill that could someday be deployed for landmines, finding underground cables and a variety of other tasks.

And here’s a nice feel-good story, as it were. A new paper published in Science from University of Pittsburgh engineers highlights the value of adding tactile feedback for prosthetic arms. This delivers some clear advantages over traditional vision sensing. Per the paper:

Flesher et al. added an afferent channel to the brain-computer interface to mimic sensory input from the skin of a hand (see the Perspective by Faisal). The improvements achieved by adding the afferent input were substantial in a battery of motor tasks tested in a human subject.

#bowery-farming, #mit, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #terraclear

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Rock picking robotics startup TerraClear raises $25 million

Rock picking is probably not the first thing you think about when you think agricultural robotics. Understandably so. There are a number of companies out there looking to automate aspects like fruit and vegetable picking, weeding and field tending, but rocks are still a major issue for many farmers. They’re big, they’re heavy and they can really mess up a piece of machinery.

“This is something I’ve personally dealt with my entire life,” TerraClear CEO and Brent Frei said in a press release. “There are more than 400 million arable acres worldwide that have been waiting for a cost-effective and productive solution to this problem. Repetitive tasks like this are optimal targets for automation, and the technologies we are bringing to the field dramatically reduce the labor and time needed to prep fields for planting.”

TerraClear has built an automated robotic solution, capable of picking up to 400 rocks per hour and picking and moving ones weighing up to 300 pounds. Back in 2019, the Bellevue, Washington based company announced a $6 million dollar raise to expand its offering, and today it’s announced a $25 million Series A.

Madrona Venture Group  returns to lead the round, which brings its total funding up to $38 million to date. The funding will go toward scaling up the company’s production and sales for next year, as well as growing headcount. TerraClear’s Rock Picker robot is now up for pre-order. The system works with mapping and 3rd party drone systems, using AI to identify large rocks, which the robot can then be deployed to clear out.

#ag-tech, #robot, #robotics, #terraclear

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JD.com, Meituan and Neolix to test autonomous deliveries on Beijing public roads

People in a Beijing suburb will begin to see autonomous delivery mini-vans across their neighborhood, moving cautiously alongside human delivery riders belting down the streets.

Beijing has greenlighted JD.com, Meituan, and Neolix to trial self-driving delivery vehicles on designated public roads in the Yizhuang Development Area, an economic and technological growth pilot initiated by the municipal government of the capital city, according to an announcement made by local authorities at a mobility conference on Tuesday. Yizhuang has aggressively rolled out 5G coverage in part to prepare the infrastructure for autonomous driving ventures.

All three companies are using dainty box-on-wheels vehicles similar to those of Nuro to shuffle goods around. Three-year-old Neolix, backed by Chinese electric vehicle startup Li Auto, focuses on making self-driving vehicles for retail, surveillance and other city services, while both JD.com and Meituan are tech heavyweights that find unmanned delivery increasingly important to their existing core business.

Meituan’s self-driving delivery vehicle / Photo: Meituan via WeChat

Online retailer JD.com hires its own in-house delivery staff while Meituan relies on a national network of riders to bring restaurant takeout to customers. Both have been working on autonomous driving technologies internally in recent years and are also testing small fleets of delivery drones in China.

Neolix will place 150 delivery robots on Beijing roads by June. JD.com declined to disclose its deployment number. Meituan can’t be immediately reached for comment.

At the Tuesday event, authorities from the Beijing pilot zone also laid out rules for operating zero-occupant delivery vehicles in the area. The robots are categorized as “non-motor vehicles,” which suggests they will be moving next to bicycles and electric scooters instead of faster-moving cars. Road conditions in Chinese cities are often much more complicated than in the United States, even on sidewalks and bike lanes thanks to unpredictable pedestrians, unleashed pets, and reckless scooter riders.

Importantly, the rules also stipulate that the robots need to have safety drivers “on the spot and remotely.”

Neolix’s delivery robot / Photo: Neolix via WeChat

JD.com says its technology allows every remote safety driver to monitor up to 50 operating delivery robots simultaneously. Its vehicles will carry packages from logistics centers and supermarkets to nearby office buildings, residential complexes and school campuses. Customers will then fetch their order directly from the van using a pick-up code sent to them through a text message ahead of time.

Neolix’s vehicles in the pilot area, in comparison, act more like mobile vending machines peddling snacks and lunchboxes to workers around office complexes. Users can place their order on a little screen attached to the robot, pay by a QR code and get their warm bento or ice cream instantaneously.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #beijing, #china, #electric-vehicles, #jd-com, #li-auto, #meituan, #nuro, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #take-out, #tc, #transportation

0

Taipei-based computer vision startup eYs3D gets $7M Series A

eYs3D Microelectronics, a fabless design house that focuses on end-to-end software and hardware systems for computer vision technology, has raised a $7 million Series A. Participants included ARM IoT Capital, WI Harper and Marubun Corporation, who will each serve as strategic investors.

Based in Taipei, Taiwan, eYs3D was spun out of Etron, a fabless IC and system-in-package (SiP) design firm, in 2016. It will use its new funding to build its embedded chip business in new markets. The company’s technology, including integrated circuits, 3D sensors, camera modules and AI-based software, have a wide range of applications, such as robotics, touchless controls, autonomous vehicles and smart retail. eYs3D’s products have been used in the Facebook Oculus Rift S and Valve Index virtual reality headsets, and Techman Robots.

ARM, the microprocessor company, will integrate eYs3D’s chips into its CPU and NPUs. WI Harper, a cross-border investment firm with offices in Taipei, Beijing and San Francisco, will give eYs3D access to its international network of industrial partners. Marubun Corporation, a Japan-based company that distributes semiconductors and other electronic components, will open new distribution channels for eYs3D.

In a press statement, ARM IoT Capital chairman Peter Hsieh said, “As we look to the future, enhanced computer vision support plays a key role in ARM’s AI architecture and deployment. eYs3D’s innovative 3D computer vision capability can offer the market major benefits, and we are pleased to partner with the company and invest in the creation of more AI-capable vision processors.”

The new funding will also be used to expand eYs3D’s product development and launch a series of 3D computer vision modules. It will also work with new business partners to expand its platform and hire more talent.

eYs3D’s chief strategy officer James Wang told TechCrunch that the global chip shortage and Taiwan’s drought haven’t significantly impacted the company’s business or production plans, because it works with Etron as its integrated circuits manufacturing service.

“Etron Technology is one of the major accounts for the Taiwanese foundry sector and has strong relationships with the foundries, so eYs3D can receive products for its customers as required,” he said. “Meanwhile, eYs3D works closly with its major customers to schedule a just-in-time supply chain for their production pipelines.”

The company’s systems combine silicon design and algorithms to manage information collected from different sensor sources, including thermal, 3D and neural network perception. Its technology is capable of supporting visual simultaneous location and mapping (vSLAM), object feature depth recognition, and gesture-based commands.

Yang said eYs3D can provide end-to-end services, from integrated circuit design to ready-to-use products, and works closely with clients to determine what they need. For example, it offered its chip solution to an autonomous robot company for obstacle avoidance and people-tracing features.

“Since their expertise is in robotic motor controls and mechanicals, they needed a more complete solution for a design module for 3D sensing, as well as object and people recognition. We provided them with one of our 3D depth camera solutions and SDK along with middleware algorithm samples for their validation,” said Yang. “The customer took our design package and seamlessly integrated our 3D depth camera solution for proof-of-concept within a short period of time. Next, we helped them to retrofit the camera design to fit in their robot body prior to commercialization of the robot.”

#3d-sensor, #asia, #chips, #computer-vision, #eys3d, #fundings-exits, #integrated-circuits, #robotics, #startups, #taiwan, #tc, #virtual-reality

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Deep Science: Robots, meet world

Research papers come out far too frequently for anyone to read them all. That’s especially true in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company. This column aims to collect some of the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in, but not limited to, artificial intelligence — and explain why they matter.

This edition, we have a lot of items concerned with the interface between AI or robotics and the real world. Of course most applications of this type of technology have real-world applications, but specifically this research is about the inevitable difficulties that occur due to limitations on either side of the real-virtual divide.

One issue that constantly comes up in robotics is how slow things actually go in the real world. Naturally some robots trained on certain tasks can do them with superhuman speed and agility, but for most that’s not the case. They need to check their observations against their virtual model of the world so frequently that tasks like picking up an item and putting it down can take minutes.

What’s especially frustrating about this is that the real world is the best place to train robots, since ultimately they’ll be operating in it. One approach to addressing this is by increasing the value of every hour of real-world testing you do, which is the goal of this project over at Google.

In a rather technical blog post the team describes the challenge of using and integrating data from multiple robots learning and performing multiple tasks. It’s complicated, but they talk about creating a unified process for assigning and evaluating tasks, and adjusting future assignments and evaluations based on that. More intuitively, they create a process by which success at task A improves the robots’ ability to do task B, even if they’re different.

Humans do it — knowing how to throw a ball well gives you a head start on throwing a dart, for instance. Making the most of valuable real-world training is important, and this shows there’s lots more optimization to do there.

Another approach is to improve the quality of simulations so they’re closer to what a robot will encounter when it takes its knowledge to the real world. That’s the goal of the Allen Institute for AI’s THOR training environment and its newest denizen, ManipulaTHOR.

Animated image of a robot navigating a virtual environment and moving items around.

Image Credits: Allen Institute

Simulators like THOR provide an analogue to the real world where an AI can learn basic knowledge like how to navigate a room to find a specific object — a surprisingly difficult task! Simulators balance the need for realism with the computational cost of providing it, and the result is a system where a robot agent can spend thousands of virtual “hours” trying things over and over with no need to plug them in, oil their joints and so on.

#artificial-intelligence, #deep-science, #ec-hardware, #ec-news-analysis, #ec-robotics, #gadgets, #hardware, #lab-wrap, #robotics, #science, #tc

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Only 3 startup demo booths left at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Listen up mobility mavericks. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 is right around the corner of your calendar (June 9). If you want to place your ground-breaking, edge-cutting, envelope-pushing (no extra charge for clichés) early-stage startup in front of the world’s leading mobility movers, shakers and makers you gotta hustle. You have just one week left to buy one of our remaining three Startup Exhibitor Packages.

Here’s what the $380 package includes, plus a few suggestions on ways to take full advantage of the virtual platform’s capabilities and boost the opportunity factor. Note: Exhibitors must be pre-Series A, early-stage startups in the mobility field.

  • Virtual booth space
  • Lead generation
  • 4 conference passes
  • Full event access
  • Videos on-demand
  • Breakout sessions
  • Networking with CrunchMatch

Hopin, our virtual platform, lets you tap into your creativity. Include a product walk-through video — complete with links to your website and social media accounts — at your virtual booth. But get this. Your booth also includes live stream capability. Make the most of that opportunity. Share your screen, host a live demo or a product tutorial and moderate the chat area.

Maybe you’d like to host and live stream your own Q&A session. Go for it. Or why not establish yourself as a subject matter expert? Choose your topic and combine your virtual booth and CrunchMatch, our AI-powered networking platform, to send invitations to the people you want to impress and get the conversation started. And of course, you can always schedule 1:1 video calls.

Since you’ll have four event passes, you and your team can tend to booth business and take in a range of presentations. Here are just two examples of what’s in store. Check out the event agenda and plan your schedule now.

Supercharging Self-Driving Super Vision: Few startups were as prescient as Scale AI when it came to anticipating the need for massive sets of tagged data for use in AI. Co-founder and CEO Alex Wang also made a great bet on addressing the needs of lidar sensing companies early on, which has made the company instrumental in deploying AV networks. We’ll hear about what it takes to make sense of sensor data in driverless cars and look at where the industry is headed.

AVs: Past, Present and Future: TechCrunch Mobility will talk to two pioneers, and competitors, who are leading the charge to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Karl Iagnemma, president of the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, and Chris Urmson, the co-founder and CEO of Aurora, will discuss — and maybe even debate — the best approach to AV development and deployment, swap stories of the earliest days of the industry and provide a few forecasts of what’s to come.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9, but you have just one week left to reserve your virtual demo booth. Grab this opportunity and get your startup in front of the industry’s top movers and makers.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#alex-wang, #aptiv, #artificial-intelligence, #aurora, #automation, #av, #chris-urmson, #consumer-electronics-show, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #hyundai, #karl-iagnemma, #president, #private-equity, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-car, #startup-company, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #techcrunch, #technology

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Researchers add sense of touch to robotic arm via brain implant

A robotic arm grasps a white spherical object.

Enlarge (credit: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center)

One of the most astonishing examples of the promise of brain implants is shown in a video in which a paralyzed person controls a robotic arm with nothing but her thoughts. The technology alone is impressive, but the joy on the participant’s face as she grabs herself a drink for the first time in over a decade really drives home just how important this technology can be.

While we’re still decades away from widespread implant use, there are continued signs of progress in making implants more functional. Last week, we saw a neural implant that could turn imagined writing into real text. This week, the research community has followed up with an implant-controlled robotic arm that sends touch feedback to the user via a second implant.

Adding senses

When we go to pick up an object, we locate the object primarily through vision. From there, other senses take over. Humans have a sense called proprioception, which helps us know where are body parts are, even when they’re not visible. Our sense of touch tells us when we’ve made contact with the object, and pressure sensation gives us an indication of how firmly we’ve grasped the object. The visual system quickly becomes secondary to the process.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biology, #brain-implants, #brain-computer-interface, #medicine, #neuroscience, #robotics, #science

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Slicing up pizza robots

So, true story. Over the weekend I was talking to someone about restaurant robotics. It’s a concept people often have trouble visualizing — and understandably so. Among other things, there’s really no commonly accepted form factor in a category that sometimes is literally a robot arm flipping hamburgers.

My short response was, “they’re large kiosks that make pizza.” And honestly, that’s not really far from the truth. These sorts of self-contained assembly line robots are probably about as close as we have to a consensus design in the category — and for good reason. They’re designed to operate with minimal interaction — largely the employee’s involvement is limited to order input, restocking ingredients and cleaning.

The pizza part is two-fold. First: people like pizza. It’s plentiful and popular, so it makes sense that it would be one of the first foodstuffs you’d want to automate. Second: it’s relatively easy to automate. The process for making it is consistent and the constraints are clear. It’s something that can be broken down into an easy to follow, step by step set of instructions.

I covered two restaurant robots in the past week. It’s a category that saw a pretty sizable boost in interest during the pandemic, as restaurants were short-staffed essential services looking for ways to minimize human contact with food as the scientific world was scrambling to determine how the novel coronavirus is spread.

Picnic very much fits in with the aforementioned description. It is, quite literally, a big, pizza-making box. This week the Seattle-based company announced a $16.3 million raise that includes a $3 million bridge filed last fall. It’s targeting restaurants, as well as public gathering spaces (remember those?) like schools, stadiums and hospitals. There are a handful of companies in the category, including XRobotics — though the formerly best known, Zume, bailed out of the pizza robot space a while back.

Chef Robotics announced a $7.7 million raise this week. I can’t really tell you what the final robot looks like yet, because that’s still trade secret stuff. Here’s what the company says:

Chef is designed to mimic the flexibility of humans, allowing customers to handle thousands of different kinds of food using minimal hardware changes. Chef does this using artificial intelligence that can learn how to handle more and more ingredients over time and that also improves. This allows customers to do things like change their menu often. Additionally, Chef’s modular architecture allows customers to quickly scale up just as they would by hiring more staff (but unlike humans, Chef always shows up on time and doesn’t need breaks).

Not a lot to go off there, but the modularity bit is interesting — and something a lot of these companies are exploring. If you can get a robot to automate a simple, repetitive task, you can potentially offer swappable hardware that can apply the technology to different kinds of food.

Other notable raises for the week include Mech-Mind robots. The Beijing-based company announced a Series C. It hasn’t revealed a specific figure, but given that it says the raise brings its total funding to over $100 million and it had previously raised a total of $79 million (including a $15 million Series B last year), you can extrapolate from there.

Mech-Mind is an industrial robotics and AI company focused on various manufacturing tasks.

#chef-robotics, #food, #robotics, #robotics-roundup

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Pizza robot-maker Picnic raises another $16.3M

The events of the past year and a half could well mark the beginning of a sea change for the world of restaurant robotics. The essential industrial was slammed amid the pandemic, leaving many companies searching for a decent automated option that could both keep things running and potentially avoid transmission vectors.

Seattle-based Picnic is the latest to benefit from that interest, announcing a $16.3 raise this week. Led by Thursday Ventures — with participation from Creative Ventures, Flying Fish Partners and Vulcan Capital – the Series A includes a $3 million bridge filed last fall.

The company is one of a handful looking to automate the pizza-making process. It’s an obvious target for this technology, given both the food’s popularity and the relative uniformity, versus other meals. XRobotics debuted its own system late-late year, while Zume – possibly the best-known of the bunch – has long since exited the category.

Picnic, meanwhile, says interest in its own pizza system has ramped up of late, announcing a number of industry partnerships, including Orion Land Mark, Ethan Stowell Restaurants, National Service Cooperative  and Baseline Hardware Financing. The plan is to roll the technology out to both restaurants and other public gathering spaces, including schools, stadiums and hospitals. The company says this latest round will go toward headcount and expanding operations.

#picnic, #pizza, #robotics

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Artificial raises $21M led by Microsoft’s M12 for a lab automation platform aimed at life sciences R&D

Automation is extending into every aspect of how organizations get work done, and today comes news of a startup that is building tools for one industry in particular: life sciences. Artificial, which has built a software platform for laboratories to assist with, or in some cases fully automate, research and development work, has raised $21.5 million.

It plans to use the funding to continue building out its software and its capabilities, to hire more people, and for business development, according to Artificial’s CEO and co-founder David Fuller. The company already has a number of customers including Thermo Fisher and Beam Therapeutics using its software directly and in partnership for their own customers. Sold as aLab Suite, Artificial’s technology can both orchestrate and manage robotic machines that labs might be using to handle some work; and help assist scientists when they are carrying out the work themselves.

“The basic premise of what we’re trying to do is accelerate the rate of discovery in labs,” Fuller said in an interview. He believes the process of bringing in more AI into labs to improve how they work is long overdue. “We need to have a digital revolution to change the way that labs have been operating for the last 20 years.”

The Series A is being led by Microsoft’s venture fund M12 — a financial and strategic investor — with Playground Global and AME Ventures also participating. Playground Global, the VC firm co-founded by ex-Google exec and Android co-creator Andy Rubin (who is no longer with the firm), has been focusing on robotics and life sciences and it led Artificial’s first and only other round. Artificial is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

Fuller hails from a background in robotics, specifically industrial robots and automation. Before founding Artificial in 2018, he was at Kuka, the German robotics maker, for a number of years, culminating in the role of CTO; prior to that, Fuller spent 20 years at National Instruments, the instrumentation, test equipment and industrial software giant. Meanwhile, Artificial’s co-founder, Nikhita Singh, has insight into how to bring the advances of robotics into environments that are quite analogue in culture. She previously worked on human-robot interaction research at the MIT Media Lab, and before that spent years at Palantir and working on robotics at Berkeley.

As Fuller describes it, he saw an interesting gap (and opportunity) in the market to apply automation, which he had seen help advance work in industrial settings, to the world of life sciences, both to help scientists track what they are doing better, and help them carry out some of the more repetitive work that they have to do day in, day out.

This gap is perhaps more in the spotlight today than ever before, given the fact that we are in the middle of a global health pandemic. This has hindered a lot of labs from being able to operate full in-person teams, and increased the reliance on systems that can crunch numbers and carry out work without as many people present. And, of course, the need for that work (whether it’s related directly to Covid-19 or not) has perhaps never appeared as urgent as it does right now.

There have been a lot of advances in robotics — specifically around hardware like robotic arms — to manage some of the precision needed to carry out some work, but up to now no real efforts made at building platforms to bring all of the work done by that hardware together (or in the words of automation specialists, “orchestrate” that work and data); nor link up the data from those robot-led efforts, with the work that human scientists still carry out. Artificial estimates that some $10 billion is spent annually on lab informatics and automation software, yet data models to unify that work, and platforms to reach across it all, remain absent. That has, in effect, served as a barrier to labs modernising as much as they could.

A lab, as he describes it, is essentially composed of high-end instrumentation for analytics, alongside then robotic systems for liquid handling. “You can really think of a lab, frankly, as a kitchen,” he said, “and the primary operation in that lab is mixing liquids.”

But it is also not unlike a factory, too. As those liquids are mixed, a robotic system typically moves around pipettes, liquids, in and out of plates and mixes. “There’s a key aspect of material flow through the lab, and the material flow part of it is much more like classic robotics,” he said. In other words, there is, as he says, “a combination of bespoke scientific equipment that includes automation, and then classic material flow, which is much more standard robotics,” and is what makes the lab ripe as an applied environment for automation software.

To note: the idea is not to remove humans altogether, but to provide assistance so that they can do their jobs better. He points out that even the automotive industry, which has been automated for 50 years, still has about 6% of all work done by humans. If that is a watermark, it sounds like there is a lot of movement left in labs: Fuller estimates that some 60% of all work in the lab is done by humans. And part of the reason for that is simply because it’s just too complex to replace scientists — who he described as “artists” — altogether (for now at least).

“Our solution augments the human activity and automates the standard activity,” he said. “We view that as a central thesis that differentiates us from classic automation.”

There have been a number of other startups emerging that are applying some of the learnings of artificial intelligence and big data analytics for enterprises to the world of science. They include the likes of Turing, which is applying this to helping automate lab work for CPG companies; and Paige, which is focusing on AI to help better understand cancer and other pathology.

The Microsoft connection is one that could well play out in how Artificial’s platform develops going forward, not just in how data is perhaps handled in the cloud, but also on the ground, specifically with augmented reality.

“We see massive technical synergy,” Fuller said. “When you are in a lab you already have to wear glasses… and we think this has the earmarks of a long-term use case.”

Fuller mentioned that one area it’s looking at would involve equipping scientists and other technicians with Microsoft’s HoloLens to help direct them around the labs, and to make sure people are carrying out work consistently by comparing what is happening in the physical world to a “digital twin” of a lab containing data about supplies, where they are located, and what needs to happen next.

It’s this and all of the other areas that have yet to be brought into our very AI-led enterprise future that interested Microsoft.

“Biology labs today are light- to semi-automated—the same state they were in when I started my academic research and biopharmaceutical career over 20 years ago. Most labs operate more like test kitchens rather than factories,” said Dr. Kouki Harasaki, an investor at M12, in a statement. “Artificial’s aLab Suite is especially exciting to us because it is uniquely positioned to automate the masses: it’s accessible, low code, easy to use, highly configurable, and interoperable with common lab hardware and software. Most importantly, it enables Biopharma and SynBio labs to achieve the crowning glory of workflow automation: flexibility at scale.”

Harasaki is joining Peter Barratt, a founder and general partner at Playground Global, on Artificial’s board with this round.

“It’s become even more clear as we continue to battle the pandemic that we need to take a scalable, reproducible approach to running our labs, rather than the artisanal, error-prone methods we employ today,” Barrett said in a statement. “The aLab Suite that Artificial has pioneered will allow us to accelerate the breakthrough treatments of tomorrow and ensure our best and brightest scientists are working on challenging problems, not manual labor.”

#artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #automation, #biotech, #enterprise, #health, #life-sciences, #rd, #robotics, #science, #startups, #tc

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Industrial automation startup Bright Machines hauls in $435M by going public via SPAC

Bright Machines is going public via a SPAC-led combination, it announced this morning. The transaction will see the 3-year-old company merge with SCVX, raising gross cash proceeds of $435 million in the process.

After the transaction is consummated, the startup will sport an anticipated equity valuation of $1.6 billion.

The Bright Machines news indicates that the great SPAC chill was not a deep freeze. And the transaction itself, in conjunction with the previously announced Desktop Metal blank-check deal, implies that there is space in the market for hardware startup liquidity via SPACs. Perhaps that will unlock more late-stage capital for hardware-focused upstarts.

Today we’re first looking at what Bright Machines does, and then the financial details that it shared as part of its news.

What’s Bright Machines?

Bright Machines is trying to solve a hard problem related to industrial automation by creating microfactories. This involves a complex mix of hardware, software and artificial intelligence. While robotics has been around in one form or another since the 1970s, for the most part, it has lacked real intelligence. Bright Machines wants to change that.

The company emerged in 2018 with a $179 million Series A, a hefty amount of cash for a young startup, but the company has a bold vision and such a vision takes extensive funding. What it’s trying to do is completely transform manufacturing using machine learning.

At the time of that funding, the company brought in former Autodesk co-CEO Amar Hanspal as CEO and former Autodesk founder and CEO Carl Bass to sit on the company board of directors. AutoDesk itself has been trying to transform design and manufacturing in recent years, so it was logical to bring these two experienced leaders into the fold.

The startup’s thesis is that instead of having what are essentially “unintelligent” robots, it wants to add computer vision and a heavy dose of sensors to bring a data-driven automation approach to the factory floor.

#artificial-intelligence, #bright-machines, #ec-hardware, #exit, #finance, #industrial-automation, #robotics, #spacs, #startups, #tc

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China’s autonomous vehicle startups AutoX, Momenta and WeRide are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches towards consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide, and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.

Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidars to detect the cars’ surroundings while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.

The industry is still years from being truly driverless and o